Category Archives: Other Reviews
The essence of a good crime novel always comes down to a little bit of levity. Despite dark textures, it can take on a type of social commentary or sarcasm if correctly done. This is what made “Goodfellas” so palpable. “Blood Standard” [Laird Barron/G.P. Putnam’s Sons/336pgs] takes the essence of a pulp novel and integrates it with the aspect of a revenge thriller/fish-out-of-water story. Here is the focus is on Isaiah Coleridge, a hitter in the mob but seemingly with a small soft streak. He begins in Alaska but is seemingly exiled to upstate New York, a completely different but slightly similar den. The texture of the characters is relatively small time but fairly lurid in its details. The internal structures of the characters move but also because there is a method to his madness. Isaiah sees the good in others when they don’t, at times, see it in themselves. Most of all the characters are broken but not in ways they can’t be fixed. There is a dexterity of nihilism within the story but also sarcasm. Isaiah’s penchant as a bruiser is undeniable and he doesn’t push it down but details like his love of mythology to his approach of bringing a date to a made place to the aspect of taking down part of a gang because of their abuse of an animal shows a dynamic missing from some stories that take themselves too seriously. The only soft approach to this aspect is the motivation initially to dip his toe back into the life: the missing niece of his upstate NY hosts and benefactors. It seems like a wanton means for penance though he doesn’t seem like the type to adhere to such sentimentality. However the essence of loyalty does permeate both in his would-be girlfriend but definitely to his brother-in-arms Lionel who seems a lost case at times but inherently dependable in a jam. Their quips back and forth before attacking, on a stake out or even hanging out with their photographer friend Calvin in a strip club has the feelings of old school movies or “Oceans 11”…guys in heightened situations who would like to relax but have other scores that need to be settled. “Blood Standard” knows its world but peppers it with textures that are both humorous, brutal and inventive making for an efficient and bombastic read.
By Tim Wassberg
Changing perspectives and modes of narration is tricky for any author. However when your debut and most recent novel “The Martian” is made into a motion picture by Ridley Scott starring Matt Damon there is expectation. The key element is that by the time most people, including myself, had read it, the announcement of that production was already made so the key element is that in the mind’s eye there was already a sense of personality and something visual to go with the story. Granted the screenplay that eventually made the movie was created in a different structure and shifted time to make it more linear. The storytelling element of The Martian was in journal format which made the isolation of what that lone astronaut was going through on Mars very isolation. Also the way it was structured you had more of a sense of how long he was there and the time passing. The movie seemingly glossed that over. Not by much but it made a difference. I spoke with Andy before the film was released at an event at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena and then again when The Martian came out on Blu Ray. The question revolved around structure but Hollywood is a machine and there needs to be some compromise. He also said he was working on his next book which was set on the moon. Enter “Artemis”…a very different monster in more ways than one…and interestingly enough one that has a slightly similar intention of all things to “Downsizing” though it was written long before that film was released. Artemis tells the story of Jazz Basura (I always tend to think of Diz played by Dina Meyer from “Starship Troopers” when I hear that name. Jazz is a woman in her late 20s who maybe never reached her full potential. She works the back hallways as a porter…and a smuggler. The interesting aspect is that Andy gave himself a couple interesting challenges to work again. Like with “Annihilation” which revealed in the second book, that the character Natalie Portman plays was Asian, the story here for at least the 2 main characters (3 if you count Sanchez) are all women of color…which should be awesome when the film adaptation comes (since the rights have already been bought by Fox I believe). Jazz is a whip smart promiscuous Saudi Arabian girl brought up by her Muslim welder father who moved them to the moon when she was 10. She never knew her mother. Add to the top of it the only man she ever loved was stolen from her by her best friend, when it turned out her boyfriend was gay. Again complicated but should play out interestingly on screen. And she has a potty mouth so hopefully an R rating works on this. The head administrator of the entire moon base is a cutthroat economist from Kenya which is now the key way to get to the moon since it is on the equator. The mixing of elements here gives the novel a mixture of “Total Recall”, “Wall Street” and “Moon” if that makes sense. This visually could be made down and dirty but the outside elements including elements like the harvesters (an interesting sequence) and places like the Apollo 11 tourism site might be very interesting if it is done like 2001…like more reality based. The underlying politics and intrigue which push the story permeate through to the end with a taut but made for Hollywood 3rd act and the epilogue perfectly encapsulates the power struggle and the dog-eat-dog mentality that will occupy space just as soon as it does Earth. Like many near future tales this novel works through and through. It appeals to the everyman but is high functioning much like The Martian novel. The aspects of science are key to the plot specifically the creation of oxygen, glass and aluminum. It might not sound terribly exciting on that basis but it takes the monopoly of what “Total Recall” was selling and gives it real world context, right down to the assassin part.
By Tim Wassberg
Using the angle of Batman as a political figure sometimes backtracks on itself but also playing idealism and former foes against certain ideas of purity sometimes backfire as well. In “Batman – Detective Comics Vol. 7: Anarky” [Brian Buccellato/DC Comics/176pgs], the main protagonist actually personifies a certain element of freedom that Batman aspires to but does it with vicious abandon and wanton savagery. In opening up the city with “V” type masks, this vision of Anarky simply invites death and not a sense of life. Bruce Wayne, by comparison, has to accept a texture of sacrifice in terms of realizing that no matter how much good he has accomplished he will always be seen by some as the bad guy. The dark snow tinged elements of light mixed with the greens and burnt yellows show a continued essence of twilight reflecting a certain transient state of mind. The reflection of old foes and how their own psychosis functions backwards on them informs this story in the visage of Mad Hatter who seemingly only wants to find his Alice despite the fact that his actions leave him shivering in his own misery in a cell. The same can be said of The Riddler in “Future’s End” which uses the art to even more skewed perception. The Riddler has become both a pawn and an abuser of Gotham’s goodwill but in adhering to his own sense of blurred conscience in not wanting to be outdone, The Riddler is brought to his death. The idea through all the stories in this volume is a fear or admonishment of mortality. Even the beginning story “Terminal” uses this as a trigger with a plane being crashed through Gotham Terminal with a disease infecting all on board. Both a police captain and Batman are exposed but it is the darker black market element that permeates with connections to the Middle East and Russia that give this story a real sense of dread. The art is bathed in shadow with a grand sense of foreboding where the features aren’t exceptionally distinct but dreamlike enough to make one realize the viciousness hoarding below. This, in a way, makes this one of the more visceral graphic novels of late.
By Tim Wassberg